Caution, Hardcore Vegans: Chances Are, Your Medicine Is Made With Animal Products
Did you know that most medication contains animal products? That's right: lactose, gelatin, carmine and other substances derived from animal products are common ingredients in pharmaceuticals. Not good news for strict vegans or vegetarians, especially those who eat a plant-based diet for ethical reasons.
NPR's Shots blog is highlighting the work of longtime vegans Reuben Proctor and Lars Thomsen, German authors whose book, Veganissimo, has recently been translated into English for the first time. The book provides a guide to over 2,500 products, including medication, something the authors say is often full of the very products that vegans are trying to avoid. Proctor says:
“Medicine is one of the more difficult products for vegans to avoid, especially if something is life-threatening. How far are you prepared to go for your own convictions?”
Lactose and gelatin are some of the more common animal ingredients. Lactose is used as as a carrier and stabilizer, and gelatin is often found in many capsules and tablets. Magnesium stearate is a fatty acid-based substance that can come from animals, and is also sometimes used in medication.
I recently finished up a 30 day vegan eating challenge. While I wasn't that strict with my parameters (I ate honey, for example), I did try to avoid ingredients like gelatin and lactose. It never occurred to me that products like those could be in over-the-counter or even prescription medications. Since I wasn't really eating vegan for ethical concerns, I can't say that I'm too upset that I popped a couple of red ibuprofen (possibly made with carmine, derived from insect shells) during my experiment, but I imagine this information could be a big deal for really committed vegans (most likely hardcore vegans are already in the know about this, but even so.) Proctor explained how he had to make the choice to use an anticoagulant made from an animal product after a recent surgery:
“…I had to make a compromise and use the animal anticoagulant for 24 hours. I did not like it all, but it was a question of life or death.”
Sadly, Proctor and Thomsen are pretty clear that they don't expect the pharmaceutical industry to attempt to develop vegan medications anytime soon. Proctor added:
“I doubt the pharmaceutical industry is interested. They have a totally different paradigm … They don't have qualms about using animals for testing or in products.”
If you're concerned about animal products in your medicine, the UK-based Vegan Society maintains a list of animal-free medication.